I have always struggled with motivating my dressage horse but its got to the point of absolute despair i just don't know what to do. Horse is an 8 yr old welsh cob x. He's solid second level and always places in the top 10 percent but we can not achieve better as he really struggles with energy levels. His canter does not have enough jump, and his trot tends to flatten and run when lengthening.
He is just so so lazy and nothing I can do seems to motivate him. I have a regular trainer and have done clinics with various others looking for the magic bullet all to no avail.
I know its my problem. I must be blocking him somehow but I just cant figure out where or how.
Yes hes naturally low motivated but there are plenty of low motivated horses out there that do just fine. I am not strangling him in front in fact I often get told I am letting too much out the front door if anything. I find if I take more contact he is more stalled.
Yesterday I put 2 spur marks on him. Hence my cry for help. I am abusing him in my quest for forwardness. I always ride with a whip too. I make him really angry sometimes which makes me feel so bad. I am not a soft touch afraid of pushing the boundaries but I feel I am turning into a horse abuser.
I block every horse and get it behind the leg so i know its me! I never had the issue when I was a Hunter rider so its something about my seat I am sure. If I ride him in 2 point and with real light contact he still not real energetic but is a bit better. I tend to try and wake him up like this often before doing a schooling session.
So can anyone give me some ideas of what i must be doing with my body to do this?
Obviously I don't know you and your horse, but sometimes it's not worth fighting city hall. Get a new horse. If you want to do anything above lower level dressage, then you will be doing yourself (and your horse) a favor if you find something that enjoys the work... and in dressage being naturally more forward and active is a pretty integral part of that equation.
Last edited by TickleFight; Mar. 24, 2013 at 06:24 PM.
Is he fit enough for what you are asking him to do? While I am not experienced with the breed, I tend to think of cobby types as being the kind of horse that doesn't typically stay well conditioned without a well thought out schedule and effort on the part of the rider/trainer.
What about mixing up the ring work some trail rides or work out in the field, in which you ask for forward trot work or a nice hand gallop if the footing permits? When riding similarly "stuck" horses during these conditioning exercises, I would not be picky about what he exactly he was doing with his body as long as he was moving in a balanced and comfortable fashion.
Not every horse is going to be a great dressage horse, for sure. But your post seems to indicate the issue is you, not the horse. Dressage quite different from hunters. Some hunters you can "point and shoot" but in dressage you have to ride, even with a school master. It will be tough to assess the issue without watching you go. Still there are things you can do.
I'd forget about dressage for a while. Go out for lots of hacks, do cavaletti work, maybe even jump a bit. Think about developing cardiovascular fitness and balance instead focusing on dressage movements. And have fun. Horse don't usually resist doing what is easy for them. If you want to keep up the dressage, try some inhand work on a wall.
Spend some time trying to understand how you are holding your horse back; do you punish forward (lots of riders actually do), are you nervous or scared, how fit are you, are you stiff and unyielding?
Good for you for searching yourself for a solution
Last edited by nhwr; Mar. 24, 2013 at 11:00 PM.
My big, round guy is naturally lazy, too. We are nowhere near 2nd level yet, but have been through a year of ups and downs in training.
2 things that have helped him:
1. Addressing soundness issues I didn't know were there. He's been on pentosan and it was an immediate change in how he moved and how much energy he brought to the table.
2. Riding in a saddle that fits both the rider and the horse. It is amazing how the ones that don't work- poor fit for him, or I. A saddle that works for him but not for me- i find myself gripping, blocking, etc.
My horse is pretty lazy as well. He'd love to be a hunter. As we've moved up to first level work, I've begun doing things to help him increase his energy.
Get him super fit. Do trot/canter sets as if you're going to do a novice or training level event. Do hill work. Do cavaletti work. Take another 20-30 minutes to go for a walk after your ring work. Do ring work in a pasture or field.
Evaluate his feed. Make sure it's not pumping him full of fillers and extra protein that his body can't use. Do some research on your feed. You'd be surprised how many popular and commonly used feeds are full of crap. Also, if a feed recommends 6 lbs per day, but you're only feeding 3 cause he gets fat, he's not getting all the vitamin/minerals he should be from that feed. Look into whole grain feeds and the vitamin/minerals he might be lacking or could use more of to help boost energy. Oats. B vitamins. Etc. Learn how to time his feeding so that his energy levels peak at the time of your classes.
If he's out 24/7, get him a stall so he can lay down and rest.
And of course, make sure he's healthy and his tack fits well.
For yourself, find a biomechanics instructor. Get lunge lessons. Develop your core strength and flexibility by doing workouts on the side. 20 minutes of circuit training each day can make a big difference. Consider chiropractic work.
Make 100% sure he's in front of the leg. Don't let him suck you into chasing him each stride. Personally, I found that spurs didn't help motivate my horse to go forward. They help with lateral work and more subtle things, but it's the whip or a good pony club kick that gets the message across. Get a neck or bucking strap, hold on so you don't pull him in the mouth and don't be afraid to really give him a good one. Then immediately go back to light aids. Jane Savoie has a really good description of getting your horse in front of the leg. Thing is, you have to do it every time, every ride til it sticks.
If you try all this and nothing happens after 6 months, you may want to accept he's reached his limit. Other option would be to send him to a trainer. You could go traditional dressage route, or a little less traditional and find a good cowboy. Good luck!
Edited to add, it took me a bit to type, so there were other people who mentioned similar things. One extra thought though: read the book Rider and Horse Back to Back by Suzanne von Dietze and give Mary Wanless's Essentials book a whirl as well.
I agree with the other posters that mentioned fitness. You can do worlds of good for forwardness and work ethic to get them doing solid 3-4 minute canter/gallop sets. You can increase trot too, but I find cantering is really the thing that helps with the forward button.
I might also try doing dressage while out on hacks and see if he is any different. Try riding in a big field, gallop forward then bring him back and ask for something (counter-canter, trot lengthening, give a big half-halt and see if he lifts his shoulders, etc). Once he gets the hang of galloping and wants to go forward, do a lot of forward and back in the canter.
How is he when your trainer hops on? If he's dramatically better, its a rider/seat issue, but if he's still lazy, I might not be so hard on yourself.
Also, of course, make sure the saddle fits, nothing is hurting, although this sounds like its not the issue.
Yes, it is you most likely. There's a book that will really help you I think. It's called
Riding in the Moment by Michael Schaefer.
Remember where whoa lies... In your upper inner thigh, your hip flexors, and your lower abdominals. If you're holding there your horse can't move forward freely. If you PM me a video I can get really specific with exercises to help.
Do you have a trainer or a good rider friend who could ride him? You are assuming the problem is you, but it may not be. First you need to answer that question.
If it turns out it IS him, try making him go much slower than he is offering. Keep asking him to go slower until he offers to speed up. That is hard work and he may decide that it's easier to travel with impulsion. It may take some time to get your idea across, but if you keep doing what you're doing you'll get the same results. Time to mix it up.
Is all you work in a ring? If so, try taking him out and working in a field or just hacking out.
My Trakehner had a pretty low tolerance for working in a ring but he perked right up if you took him out and hacked. Maybe going out and doing something different will also help you "un-block". You could be gripping him with your upper thighs and giving an inadvertent half halt. Ride in half seat up hills and in the canter and think about sinking into your heels and not gripping with your knees.
Put a neck strap on your horse and use it. That will keep you from inadvertently pulling back and will help keep you balanced.
Hill work will also help your horse build muscle/fitness and stamina. Cavaletti will help too but I think horses get a lot of benefits from working on uneven terrain. Going down slight hills helps them naturally collect and you can teach lengthenings going up hill.
Does your horse jump at all? incorporating some low fences in your work out might also help.
It sounds like you work with a trainer at least some of the time. Have you had him/her ride him? Sometimes if they can ride the horse they can feel where the issue is coming from.
If the horse does it with them, especially after more than one ride, it might be time for a vet to check your horse and make sure there is nothing physical going on. Have you checked saddle fit? That's another thing that can make a horse suck back.
Mike Shaeffer would not be my first choice as a "go to" for problem solving but I've only ridden with him, not read his book. Maybe his book is helpful.
Selling him is not an option. I have sold 2 previously because they were too lazy before I came to the realisation that the problem IS me! I even managed to shut down a mad crazy warmblood. Not to this point but still had him behind the leg. It actually was not apparent to me until I went on holiday and had a friend ride him and when I came back he was so light and gorgeous ....... For a while.
I sold the mad crazy warmblood because although he was forward enough for me and I could not shut,him down to the same extent he was dangerously spooky. I then purchased a big quiet horse but had trouble motivating him and thats when my trainer said FGS get a smaller easier to motivate horse.
During spring grass flushes he gets so sugared up to the point of madness. Hes then amazing to ride and school at home when he's like this but too crazy to show. Last spring when he was like that I did some amazing tests on him but we could not use the warmup ring as he was so terrified of his own shadow and the other horses and we had to get led right to the arena to do our test. he pulled off amazing tests but was so on edge if a cat sneezed he would have been out of there. He's on high energy feeds but low sugar and low GI for that reason. He's perfectly sound so its not an issue there. He lives out all summer and is only in at nights in the winter. It makes no real difference but when he is stalled 24/7 at shows he's actually got more energy.
I don't want to keep him in 24/7 though while at home.
I know I and I alone OWN the problem. Fitness can be a problem as well as weight issues. He's an air fern so for this reason is in a paddock that has meagre feed so I can get plenty of feed into him.
So yes I know I can feed him to craziness to get more forward but the tension outweighs the benefit.
I have sent him for training and yes he comes back forward again. Sure he's naturally lazy but after training is way more responsive...... For a while.
I use the same methods they do and we have tried everyone under the sun.
So yes its me... I know the training methods and know how to carry them out. But this body I live in is doing something I don't and my trainers don't understand.
I just hope someone has some clues as its going to be me that gives up not the horse. I have done this to 3 horses already and need to find and answer.
I know its really tough to ask on here as none of you have seen me and so its difficult to get a picture but I was just hoping someone might also have the problem or have seen someone with the same issues that might give me some clues.
So funny you posted this. I think I have your horse's twin! He's also a Welsh cobX and is on the lazy side. I've only had him for about 5 months, so we're still figuring things out, but fitness, galloping and changing things up seems to be his key so far. Is he lazy out of the barn? Do some canter lengthenings. Rally gallop up the long side. Feels slow? Head out to the field for some hills. Acts a little cranky about the ring? Set up cavaletti.
I definitely haven't figured out his feed yet. He's a pretty easy keeper, so it's not like he needs much in the way of grain, but im experimenting with more grain and more work to see if it helps perk him up a bit. We're a work in progress!
Going to find the Schaeffer book. I really do think the blocking is in my upper thighs somewhere. I have a bit of the hunters duck toes and have been told i grip with my knees. No trainer has been able to fix that though. I know I don't block with my hands. If anything I let the contact go too much.
And yes I need to get him out on the trails some more. Unfortunately everything is a half hour trailer from here so I am guilty of spending too much time in the ring,. We have paddocks we can ride in but winter its too wet and summer too hard so we only have a few months a year they are suitable to ride in.
Going to set up some cavelleti and small jumps in the ring as a starter.
Thanks everyone some great ideas and book research
Eponacelt thats funny. I love the breed but yes they can be a tad lazy. I have had mine on trails and yes he's a bit better but I don't think gallop is really in his vocab. I would have died and gone to heaven if Id had this horse in my hunter days. He has a rhythm that just stays the same at the canter no matter what. He's thrown very much to the TB side so looks like a small warmblood and moves like a warmblood. BUT a lazy one. He would be a fab small hunter and is very much admired by both hunter and dressage people.
This is a major indicator of a weak core (ask me how I know this, lol).
You need to be strong from your ribs to your knees for dressage beyond first level. You need to be able to maintain your balance and apply aids independent of what the horse's back is doing. Things that have helped me a lot are running on an elliptical glider without using my arms/hands and pilates.
I too had issues with my hip flexors. Doing yoga (camel poses, bridges (or wheel) and low lunges) has helped that a lot.
I truly admire your insight and honesty. It is you -as you say -blocking all horses you ride. Good for you realizing that. So it's not that the horse is lazy -you said he became loose, free, and forward for a while when you were away and someone else was riding him. You also say you grip -ergo the blocking.
I am with nhwr, you have to figure out how to be responsible for your own body and it's support. Until you'll keep having this problem I think, and/or your horse will be dead to your aids.
I'm about to suggest something that is likely going to make some people roll their eyes because I tend to be one-note about it, but OMG the benefits are ridiculous. Ride him bareback. Why:
1. You seem like the kind of person who will have aha moments about your position, your tension (especially when bending and you discover your butt is not on his spine), etc. Therefore this will benefit you.
2. You will find out how weak your core is and how much you might be holding on to your horse, and therefore blocking him. You might also find you are not able to ride for long at first -a sure sign.
3. You will build your balance.
I know you're a very advanced rider, and you didn't post anything about whether you do already ride bareback, but this is one of those activities you might find surprisingly beneficial.
He is total garbage! Quick! Hide him on my trailer (Petstorejunkie).
If you are a good/solid Hunter rider. Your legs are much to strong for a Dressage horse.
It equates to riding a continuous half-halt.
The easiest way to test is an exercise called legs away.
Having equal pressure on both seat bones raise your legs from your hip up-away from your horse. At first you may only be able to come away about an inch, with practice it will be closer to 6". Every time he starts to loose energy check your tightness, in all gaits.
As for him I would ride him as if getting ready for a long format event. Lots of outside & interval work. As long as BO doesn't mind, riding on not so good footing actually will help him tremendously.
My 3rd level horse loves to get lazy & behind the leg. I rarely practice "Dressage" in the ring, he's been very eager to engage since changing to this . Once forward it's always easy to bring back.